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‘I feel so disconnected,’ plus keeping Shabbat on the trail

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to [email protected]

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At loose ends

Dear Bintel,

I feel so disconnected and isolated from my friends and family. I get that this is a normal feeling during these times, but what will help me feel like I have real friends again?

— Disconnected + Isolated

Can I tell you about one of my most recent text exchanges with a dear friend? It went something like this: I think I’m having a mild panic attack, I wrote. Have you ever had a feeling where your esophagus and chest feel like they’re burning? It almost feels like I put rubbing alcohol in my coffee. Do you think there was something in my coffee? (There was not.)

I wrote to this particular friend because she is well-versed in anxiety. I knew she could talk me off the ledge. Which is exactly what she did. I almost immediately felt better, and this entire exchange happened through the power of my thumbs.

A few days later I was on the phone with yet another girlfriend, who was describing to me how her 10-year-old daughter had, out of nowhere, experienced her own first panic attack. Her mother, my friend, did all she could to bring her back to earth, and then, days later, she and I talked about it at length — were we all going crazy? Even our children? We ended up laughing about it, and what had started off as a feeling of total disconnect became a point of connection. In sharing our anxieties, we both felt slightly less alone.

You haven’t mentioned anxiety, but loneliness and isolation work the same way — they draw us further away from other people. And the only way to feel less disconnected and isolated from your friends and family is perhaps obvious: reach out. No, you can’t go out for coffee or hang out at shul, but this is why we have phones. Be frank about how you’re feeling, even if it’s just in a short text or call, and even if it feels less than satisfying. Even if how you’re feeling is bad.

Disconnected, none of this is normal. Nothing we are going through — months of quarantine, uncertainty, a pervading sense of fear about life outside, an inability to see or touch friends or family — is normal.

Everyone has a different way of dealing with this situation. Some people are withdrawing into their bubbles, battening the hatches with their blood or chosen family, and it can feel like a struggle to get even brief texts returned. But this can be an ideal time to deepen relationships with people who are, like you, craving connection. Don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t have the bandwidth for you right now, but find the people who do, and then don’t hold back; give space for real connection by talking about real things.

We don’t have the luxury of bantering about just whatever at school drop-off — no longer do we have the luxury of casual conversations — but we are still able to connect across this chasm of fear and uncertainty; in fact, the closeness and depth we can reach in this frightening time can allow for more intimacy in our relationships, not less. There is no more pretending, no more small talk.

And that’s actually liberating. A more open and honest exchange with friends about where you’re at can actually bring us to a more tender place in our relationships. We are all exposed nerves. Pick up the phone (how quaint but useful!) and tell someone how you’re feeling. I’ll bet she is feeling just as isolated and will be grateful for your honesty.

dove flies through broken heart

Image by Liana finck

Campfires v. Shabbat candles

Dear Bintel,

We are an observant family. My 20-year-old son wants to do a month-long hiking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m concerned that he’ll be driven away from the faith when he can’t observe Shabbat. How should I advise him?

You have no more control over whether your 20-year-old is driven away from faith than I do. He’s an adult and will make decisions for himself. If a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail — an arduous and largely technology-free experience — is what pulls him away from his faith, then he probably didn’t have such a strong faith in the first place. Keeping him home will not change that fact, and will likely make him view religion as a restrictive force instead of a meaningful one.

Also: there is no reason why he can’t observe Shabbat while on the hike. No, it will not have all the comforts and familiarity of home, and perhaps it won’t follow Jewish law precisely, but he can surely pitch his tent, light some candles, rest and study for 25 hours. Isn’t that, too, dedication to his faith?

Abby Rasminsky is a writer living in Los Angeles. Got a question? Send it to [email protected]

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